My Distaste For Professionals' Associations Or Trade Unions In Nigeria
17 March 2016
By A. S. M. Jimoh
As a a graduate of engineering, I have never had the interest of being a
member of my professional body.
Over time, I have scrutinized many professionals' associations and their
conduct. What I've concluded is that trade unions in Nigeria are formed to
promote misconduct among their members. Trade unions or professionals'
associations are money making ventures for their officials. That is why people
spend fortunes or even kill to become leaders of these bodies in Nigeria.
From the motor park union, the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW)
or Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), to the
professional bodies of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) or the Nigeria
Medical Association (NMA), it is same goal: to protect the interest of their
members even if such a member is a criminal.
While I am not here to convince anyone to drop out from being a member of a
professional body or trade union, I am going to demonstrate specific events
that have further alienated me from joining any Nigerian professional
In 2003, a group of nurses beat an old female patient at Okene General
Hospital, hauled her from her hospital bed, and had her detained at the police
station. Her crime? Her grown-up son had refused to participate in a so-called
sanitation exercise organized by the hospital. The case got to the court as
they insisted on teaching the woman and her son a lesson of life. On the day
of the court proceeding, the umbrella body of nurses and midwives, the
National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANMW), shut down
hospitals across local governments to attend the proceeding. Nurses who were
supposed to be on duty abandoned patients to show solidarity with a wicked
colleague. Is this what trade unions are all about? Instead of NANMW
sanctioning their members who proliferate pharmaceutical stores selling
substandard drugs, they defend the wicked conduct of their members.
Fast forward to February 2016. A certain Ricky Tarfa (SAN) was charged by the
Nigeria anti-corruption agency for obstruction of justice and for being a
bribe carrier within the judicial circle. His professional body members, SAN,
the very people who are to be highly educated in law, to wit, discipline and
morality, did not carry out an in-house investigation to ascertain the facts
of the case. Instead, they trooped to the court to intimidate the judge and
subtly obstructed justice, the very crime their colleague is being charged
with. It leaves you with no hope when people who are supposed to be the
personification of justice now congregate to pervert it in the guise of
solidarity with a professional colleague charged in a criminal suit. Well,
more revelations coming out are that there are more Ricky Tarfas among SAN
than there are the likes of Femi Falana. Alas! Who our SANs are have been
Today, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) go on strike at the slightest
provocation while closing its eyes to its members who divert public hospital
equipment to their privately owned clinics. Likewise, the Nigeria Society of
Engineers (NSE) never punishes a member for wrong design, violation of design,
breach of safety rules, poor execution of work or/and substandard production.
The paramount interest of this body is the membership due even if such due are
paid through blood money.
Periodically, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU's) members go
around universities to give pass marks in accreditation of courses and
department, only to turn around the next day and accuse the government for
lack of facilities in the same university they had accredited the previous
day. Universities offering computer studies are without computer laboratory,
yet ASUU member accredit them in order to keep their members on the job.
When Boko Haram attacked the facilities of some newspaper publishers in
Nigeria, they cried for the public to hear. Then they later received ten
million Naira each as ‘compensation' through their professional body. This
time the public never heard of it. Several communities have had their lives
destroyed by Boko Haram, but the newspapers association never deem it fit to
campaign for the rehabilitation of such communities. If it is not our member,
we cannot cut a deal.
I have heard of how a particular branch of All Nigeria Conference of Principal
of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS) directed that all its members should build a
personal house within one year of becoming a principal. How? By any means
possible. In following this directive, admission into school become a racket,
examination fees were being charged in absurd excess of the official fees,
frivolous money such as prayer due, invigilators fees are being charged by
principals, while also promoting examination practices.
Just two days ago, oil workers under the umbrella of the National Union of
Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas
Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) went on a strike because the
government restructured its owned oil company, the Nigeria National Petroleum
Company (NNPC). According to government, the reorganization that saw the
creation of seven units is to bring efficiency to the corporation, make it a
profit-making outfit and reduce the waste and corruption which the NNPC has
Why are NUPENG and PENGASSAN opposing this? They were not carried along, they
said. Whatever that means, the majority of the public knows why they did what
they did. In the last eight years, oil revenue was being looted left, right
and center, but NUPENG and PENGASSAN were in a mute mode since it was
trickling down to their members.
The idea of protecting the interest of members of trade union to the detriment
of the generality of the public has crawled to the non-professional and
unskilled labor unions. For instance, if you contract a carpenter or
bricklayer in the starting phase of a job, you cannot later invite another
carpenter or bricklayer in a subsequent phase even when you find a better deal
in price and skill. Their motto is that the man who starts a job must end it.
The job owner's interest is not an interest.
Professional associations do not exist just to protect the ‘interest' of
theirs members, but also to protect the society that patronizes their
services. Around 2009, I stumbled on a publication of two years earlier by a
nurses association in Canada. A section of that publication, running up to two
pages, was on punishment meted out to erring members of the profession. One
had her license either revoked or suspended for a lengthy period for helping a
patient buy a cigarette. Another had her license suspended for an offense as
‘little' as borrowing money from a patient. Another was suspended for a year
for delaying, even unintentionally, in giving out drug to a patient. In the
case I cited above at the Okene General Hospital, the patient had her drugs
seized by the nurses for her son's refusal to participate in the exercise.
When I think I have ethics, principles, morals and fear of God, I would often
have the revulsion to subscribe to a Nigerian professional association or
trade union. Am I a saint? No. On a lighter note, but with all seriousness, my
friends always say to me, ''You will be forced to join once you want to
practice or nothing for you in Nigeria.''
A. S. M. Jimoh (firstname.lastname@example.org or @anehi2008 on twitter)